What did Atari have against thousands?

When I was at school we were taught that you counted up to nine hundred and ninety-nine, and then if you wanted to add another digit you switched to thousands. I agreed it was a pretty logical system and ran with it, so have always wondered why Atari never got onboard… and Commodore too to a lesser extent.

Why was their game console the Atari twenty-six hundred and not the two thousand six hundred? Why were their follow up models the fifty-two hundred and seventy-eight hundred rather than the five thousand two hundred and seven thousand eight hundred, and how far would they have stretched this odd convention if they’d remained in the hardware business?

We know why the seemingly arbitrary number was chosen; because 2600Hz was the frequency of the tone you could use to ‘phreak’ old phone systems into providing you with free long-distance calls (as it happens also the frequency emitted by the complementary whistle that came with ‘Cap’n Crunch’ breakfast cereal in the ’60s), though that doesn’t explain the silly tautology.

These numbers bear no relation to their CPU clock speeds, yet for the sake of argument, let’s suppose they do. What would we call the Atari Jaguar if we adopted the same naming convention and extrapolated upwards?

The Atari 2600’s CPU runs at 1.19 MHz. Dividing 2600 by 1.19 gives us a baseline of 2184.873949579831 something-or-others per MHz.

16 years later Atari releases the Jaguar console. It uses various different CPUs, yet taking the Motorola 68000 as its main coordinator, if you will, running at 13.295 MHz:-

2184.873949579831 x 13.295 = 29047.89915966386 making its super-catchy model number the Atari two hundred and ninety hundred and forty-seven point eight nine nine one five nine six six three eight six, or for brevity’s sake rounded to the Atari two hundred and ninety hundred.

Maybe it’s one of those quirky cultural divide things. Maybe I need more sleep.

One thought on “What did Atari have against thousands?

  • April 1, 2017 at 1:46 am

    I’ve always thought it’s odd when people don’t say thousands, though with computer names it’s a bit clunky, so I still call my A1200 a 12 Hundred.

    I’ll never understand why people call the Atari VCS the Atari 2600. It seems to be the standard these days. It’s totally bizarre. It came out in 1977 and a newer model that looked quite different came out in late 1982 that was called the 2600. I’ve never seen one of these in real life, only the wood-grain ones.

    So by the time the renamed one came out, we’d had the VCS, the ZX80, ZX81, Vic-20, Spectrum, and C64. The VCS was a distant memory by then, and I’d never heard of an Atari 2600 until well into the the age of the internet and forums. I can’t imaging anyone buying a VCS in late ’82 or ’83 after we’d have so many advances since. I’s like buying a renamed PS1 now and then in 10 years everyone is calling the PlayStation the RX-5432. Madness.

    Anyway, I’ll continue calling the VCS its correct name, and not naming it after a really late to the party version that looks nothing like a VCS.

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